National Historic Landmark
The Yale Bowl, a widely admired and imitated work of sports architecture, is the second oldest active college stadium in the United States, and was the largest at the time of construction. It is significant on that account and for its associations with Yale's important role in the history of college football. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
Yale's early influence in college football, through noted player-coach-official Walter Camp, extended to the shaping of the very rules of the game, and embraced the training of coaches who carried Camp's "System" to other universities and colleges, as well as the distinguished record amassed by the university's teams themselves. Even beyond these highly significant events and influences, the history of the building of the Yale Bowl provides an insight into Yale's theory of sports as an activity vital to the development of whole individuals, a modern-day version of the Classical mens sana in corpore sano (healthy mind in a healthy body).
Yale Bowl is positioned with its main axis facing northwest-southeast , so that the sun does not shine directly into the eyes of the players. Because of the manner of construction, which basically involved digging a large pit and mounding the excavated earth around it, the playing field is 27' below the outside grade, and the top row of seats 27' above.
Much of the mass of the structure is formed by the earth mound that was thrown up from the excavations. Atop the inner side of this embankment, reinforced concrete was applied to produce a continuous ring of seats set on the gentle slope surrounding the playing field. Thirty reinforced concrete tunnels cut through the great mound to provide access to the seats. The tunnel entrances are linked by very plain retaining walls.
The entrances to the tunnels are decorated by severe triangular pediments over arched entrances. Visible above them from the exterior is the outer edge of the great earthen embankment, which remains in an uncovered state, except for grass and small trees that have grown upon it. The press stands on the southwest edge of the stadium, between Portals 14 and 17, remain relatively small and unobtrusive. They have been present since at least the 1920s.
The principal approach to the Bowl is by a northbound road from Derby Avenue, which intersects the southwest quadrant of the field at Gate C. Off Derby Avenue, the road passes through the Walter Camp Memorial Gateway, dedicated in 1928, which celebrates Yale's first coach, one of the most renowned figures in football history, and an individual so beloved that numerous colleges and universities, including Yale's traditional football foes, contributed to its construction. The Camp Gateway provides an impressive processional approach to the Bowl.
The discussions that preceded the erection of the Yale Bowl resulted in its building as a single-purpose facility. 1 This debate sheds light on Yale's philosophy of education and is similar to discussions that took place at other universities later on concerning the issues raised by the prominence of football at them. In 1913, a Yale university committee was given a mandate to provide new and increased athletic facilities to guarantee that every student in the University would have ample opportunity for healthful exercise and recreation. The building of the Bowl, intended to replace the wooden stands on Yale Field (off Derby Avenue on the site of the present baseball field, across from the Bowl), was only one part of the overall plan. It was initially assumed that the Bowl would include facilities for several sports and not be limited to football alone, which would mean that it would stand idle about ten months of the year. When the committee announced that no other sports could be accommodated, furious debate ensued. Advocates of track and field were especially insistent that a 220-yard straightaway be provided, and produced proposed design changes, including the cutting of tunnels. The issue was ultimately resolved by placing the track on the old Yale Field site and providing facilities for other sports at separate locations.
Despite the debate at Yale before construction, the Bowl proved an instant success and was quickly emulated. The stadium's dish-like shape suggested the name "bowl," and was especially admired because it provided fine views for the spectators from almost any seat. The Rose Bowl (1922) and the University of Michigan Stadium (1927) are but two of the major facilities that owe basic elements of their design and construction pattern to the Yale Bowl.
Yale did not build what was then the largest "stadium" in America to capture a place in the college football world. Yale was, in fact, the pace setter in the game's early decades. Her teams had a well-established record that went back to the earliest days of the "American" game, when its rules, even as to the numbers of players on the respective sides, were not settled. Primitive versions of football played by Yale students created such a stir that students were banned from playing intramural games on the town green in 1858.
Yale first competed in intercollegiate football in 1872, 3 years after the first intercollegiate game between Princeton and Rutgers. The following year, Yale began playing with 11 on the team, thereafter becoming the great advocate of the number that eventually became standard in the game.
Walter Camp (Yale, 1880), as Yale's advisory coach (1882-1910), full coach (1888- 92), and representative on intercollegiate rules bodies, was a preeminent voice in the evolution of the game, as well as a masterful coach for the Yale team, amassing a 67-2 record in the 1888-92 period. Camp's role was so fundamental that he has been termed the "Architect" and the "Father" of American intercollegiate football. Camp served on or advised every national rules committee from the time he was a student-player in 1878 until his death in 1925. He devised or successfully promoted the scrimmage line, the 11-man team, signal calling, the quarterback position, the fourth-down rule, tackling below the waist, marking of the playing field as a "gridiron," and the numerical scoring system. He collaborated in the selection of the first Ail-Americans (1889) and was the chief arbiter in their selection until he died.
Camp's accomplishments, of course, and those of the distinguished players on his Yale teams, preceded the erection of Yale Bowl. But their successors have gained additional laurels within its precincts, and alumni of Yale have been coaches of exceptional rank at other colleges and universities. Yale's coaches of distinction since Camp have included Howard H. Jones (1913) and his brother Thomas A.D. ("Tad") Jones (1916, 1920-27), who, with Camp, are in the select fraternity of those elected to the National College Football Hall of Fame.
Yale alumni also have reason to glory in the way their team has fared in the most venerable of intercollegiate rivalries, "The Game," that with Harvard, which began in 1875. As of the start of the 102th game in the series, in 1985, Yale had defeated Harvard 55 times, while Harvard had bested Yale only 38 times, and 8 games had ended in ties. Yale had shut out Harvard 28 times, while Harvard had performed the same feat on Yale only 18 times. Perhaps the most treasured memory to the "Elis" is the 1957 game, Yale-54, Harvard-0.
Yale's football history might be terminated here, without noting the role it has played in shaping the careers and lives of many alumni, unknown to the Hall of Fame, who have won distinction in other fields. One example may serve to illustrate the point, which is fundamental to the Yale philosophy of sport. Archibald MacLeish, in a 1969 address to the National Football Hall of Fame, "Poetry — and Football," credited his football play at Yale with smoothing the way to his appointment as Assistant Secretary of State, for it made clear to doubting Senators that he was a well-rounded individual, an athlete as well as a poet. He went on rhetorically:
“What is there about the game of football—about the mere fact of having played the game of football—which permitted that Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to adjourn in peace? What guarantee does football offer that a man who has played the game whatever else he may do or be, will at least act as though he were human?... Why are we haunted by the smell of torn earth and winter grass and the taste of time? I think I know and I think you know too. There are some things in life which have a poignance which does not belong so much to them as to the human circumstances which surround them — to the fact that they are common human experiences — experiences in common.”